Slim, Sexy Yogini + Car, and what the heck are we sayin’ here at Elephant?

Via on Aug 14, 2010

Nissan, SHIFT_the way you move

What’s good about this Nissan car ad with Tara Stiles is that it communicates about a car that has the potential to cause less harm to the environment, and it gets yoga to the eyes of a mainstream audience. But it makes mistakes in message, too.

There is a big pull-out centerfold advertisement in the July/August 2010 issue of Women’s Health magazine featuring Tara Stiles, yoga and the 100% electric, no tailpipe, zero emission (for tailpipe emissions) Nissan LEAF TM.

It seemed like quite a synchronicity that I just happened to find it during the week of the “maelstrom of discussion” around Judith Hanson Lasater’s letter to Yoga Journal about sexy ads. Added to that, in an interview, Waylon had just asked Ms. Lasater, “…A sort of crass commercialism or “spiritual materialism,” as my parents’ teacher put it, seems to be at issue. So wouldn’t SUV ads be more offensive?” Well, here is an ad about a zero tailpipe emission car (there is no tailpipe on the car!) that also shows the commercialization of yoga! But, I’m really getting ahead of myself…

This issue of Women’s Health boasts stories on the cover like, “Eat, Drink & Still Shrink!” and “Flat, Toned Abs, High, Tight Tush, Jiggle-Free Arms.” Are you feeling insecure, yet? I am…

get your best-ever summer body, Tara Stiles, yoga master

In the past (is it still happening?) it’s been bodaciously breasted and curvy women used to sexualize cars in those male-targeted car magazines. Tara Stiles cuts a much more slim and even girlish form as she poses in the Nissan ad. With her hair in a tight bun and clean look she reminds me of a classical ballerina, almost like a girl from the dancer paintings of Edgar Degas without the tutu.

Tara Stiles Nissan ad

In the language of opening a centerfold, the message is clear. (I remember, when I was a girl, pulling apart the little tacky pieces of glue to access my practically life-sized picture of Jon Bon Jovi from Teen Beat or similar magazine…) The yoga sequence is actually in the easy-open part of the ad. Inside the glued part of the spread—the most cherished part—is a picture of the car on one side of the spread and this message on the other side, taking up a whole panel on a plain dark blue background:

slimmer. calmer. healthier

Can you say “xenophobia“?

From the text:

“no chanting. No hard-to-pronounce pose names.”

and

“likewise, the Nissan LEAF is changing perceptions of what a car should be.”

Hmm…so does this mean that “hard-to-pronounce pose names” are like carbon emissions, and that chanting is equally old school/bad?

This ad is questionable (I’d say horrible) in terms of yoga and for global consciousness. When it talks about the “difficult-to-pronounce” names of the poses, I wonder about other “difficult-to-pronounce” words, like learning other languages and global communication (and what about things that can be difficult-to-say like, “I love you.”). Isn’t it important to move past the small worlds of our individual conceptions of things and into a more inclusive understanding of ourselves?

This ad targets something about yoga that I think is good and designates it as something that should be done away with—like an old car. And that’s a shame. Literally.

Tara Stiles will change the way you think about yoga

Yoga was discovered in India. The pose names may seem strange at first because they come from another language. The world is bigger than American culture (which has always been a “melting pot,” anyway), and this is healthy. Yoga can remind us of this important truth. And as a metaphor, the “otherness” of those sounds and chanting can remind us that experience is larger than our individual minds can contain. I love that yoga provides a technique that gives me relief from the tight strictures of my own mind.

The ways of materialist culture as seen in this advertisement seem to be trying to cleanse yoga of its Indian-ness, as if the strangeness of it is a form of pollution. I think that the difference and newness for us is good. We need to practice moving into new spaces and saying new things.

The Nissan ad could be a powerful way to get yoga to women. And though obesity is a national concern, this ad could be seen to feed off of women’s insecurites by reinforcing cultural pressures to be slim and burn calories, a personal concern of women’s bodies. It also taps into a growing concern about global warming, uniting an individual woman’s concern with helping the planet. But along the way, I fear it tramples on difference and ethnicity, also telling us that it’s good to do away with the difficulty of understanding what we don’t already know. [Bonus: a great thing about new media, as an evolution of print media, is that the web invites dialogue and respectful disagreement via our readers, not just writers. Please comment below.]

At places like Elephant Journal, there is a mission to bring consciousness to prevalent images and views. Our tools are also images and words the same tools as have created and support harmful human ways in our world, and we use these to attract attention to ourselves: I just think that it’s important to look inward and see what we are deciding to put out there and honor where it is really coming from. Even people striving to live a life of conscious actions and spiritual uplift can lapse into simple visual and verbal masturbation, reinforcing unhealthy stereotypes because that’s a lot of what we already know. I’m not talking about any specific post or person, but I just think that this is how to do it. We need to pay attention (and have fun). I see that we need to use the language (popular, visual, and verbal) that is already here in our common culture, but the established ways are polluting the world and harming our relationships. So how can we use what we know to create what we want?

Moving towards a life where we are living from our best conscious choices is a great aim. It is also stepping into the unknown; the way we are living now is still causing lots of harm.

Elephants: are we writing, speaking and sharing images from a creativity that is grounded in the knowledge of our lives and at the same time creating the future of our dreams?

Good (There’s a lot here that makes me think that the answer is ‘yes’). Let’s continue to strive in that direction, and continue to make all of the necessary mistakes along the way so we can learn how to do it.

What’s good about Tara’s Nissan ad is that it communicates about a car that has the potential to cause less harm to the environment, and it gets yoga to the eyes of a mainstream audience. But it makes mistakes in message, too. As a people, can we learn, and continue to refine our technology and communication, and understand as well as embrace our relationship with a global reality including environment, sexuality and community?

I say yes!

* This article is lovingly provided by Yogic Muse *

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About Brooks Hall

Brooks Hall is a Yogic Muse from Chicago, Illinois. In this capacity she teaches Yoga, writes about Yoga, and generally enjoys it. You can find her at: brookshall.blogspot.com.

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85 Responses to “Slim, Sexy Yogini + Car, and what the heck are we sayin’ here at Elephant?”

  1. Newshoes522 says:

    YES.

    Thank you for this post.

  2. Brooks, This is a brilliant piece.

    As you probably know by now, I'm a Yoga Universalist. I embrace and enjoy Yoga in all its forms.

    I love that Tara Stiles and others are exposing millions of people to Yoga who would know nothing about it otherwise.

    I also loved learning recently from Linda Sama's blog about a 10-volume ancient Yoga text I had never even heard of, which Georg Feuerstein considers one of top four Yoga texts, in the same class as the Bhagavad Gita, written in Tamil not Sanskrit, called The Tirumandiram (See Linda's eye-opening blog a classic yoga text…but not the one you think.) And I'm actually thinking about getting it. (This kind of blockbuster is common on Linda's blog, clearly one of the brightest stars in the Yoga blogosphere.)

    I personally see absolutely no contradiction between these two extremes. I Iove the diversity. I think the Yoga pie is infinitely expandable. There is plenty of pie for everyone and I see no need to push one thing over another. I see absolutely no turf or purity to protect. All forms of Yoga help support each other.

    Let it all explode in every direction and each individual will gravitate to the type of Yoga that is right for them. We don't need to lead anybody to the true path. We just need to keep it all out there and visible.

    I have faith in the individual. I don't think people are so malleable and manipulatable that they will end up in the wrong place for them.

    People with a more spiritual bent will quickly move from the Tara Stiles introduction to more spiritual kinds of Yoga. Those for whom it is a good fit will quickly find Linda's blog and learn about more traditional Yoga.

    Those who aren't so spiritually inclined, or, more commonly, have their spiritual needs met in other ways because they are already Christian or Jewish or Buddhist or Muslim or whatever, will still be better off for the health and fitness-oriented Yoga Tara is offering them.

    People will find what's right for them, given their individual interests and other spiritual involvements they already have.

    The only thing to keep people from finding the right Yoga for them is never hearing about it in the first place. So, in my opinion, the more entry points and exposure points of all types there are, the better.

    So, I am unconcerned about the Tara Stiles approach to Yoga.

    That said, your blog above is one of the most balanced, fair-minded, and eloquent essays I've ever read on why I should be.

    Fantastic work. Great thinking. Great writing.

    Bravissimo!

    Bob Weisenberg
    YogaDemystified.com

    • Andrea says:

      Bob, what is it, then, about the "Tara Stiles approach to Yoga" that is Yoga? Is just the use of the word "Yoga" enough? I mean, I'm really asking, because it just sounds like exercise to me.

      • Aron says:

        Clearly you have an opinion as to what Yoga 'should' look like Andrea.

      • Good question, Andrea.

        Tara's approach to Yoga is no different than I would guess 80% of Yoga classes in the U.S. So if you decide Tara isn't Yoga, you'd be excluding a large majority of American Yoga. That's fine, but how does one police such a thing? I did try to deal with this in my YOBO proposal http://bit.ly/1HkP0C .

        If anything, if you watch Tara's videos and read her blog, she emphasizes meditation and the mind/body connection much more than the average Yoga fitness DVD. Plus, in her best selling iPhone app. with Deepak Chopra, they explicitly talk lightly about Yoga philosophy and the 8-limbs.

        Moreover, Tara Stile's very gentle approach to Yoga is much more meditative, whole person oriented, and in keeping with Yoga philosophy than some very well established forms of Yoga like Bikram.

        Bob W.

    • Baba Rampuri says:

      Bob, the attitude that all people in their own ways should find truth, happiness, and knowledge is the mark of a yogi, and I highly commend you for that. And to be a Yoga Universalist, if that Universalism is devoid of ideology, is clearly a mark of the yogi. Bravo.

      Yoga, being many different things to different people, has truly broken away from its original context in Indian culture, and established its own rapidly expanding identity. And why shouldn't people be able to invent new forms of yoga, as we do regularly these days? Put their ideas and theories into practice. And by this, people have the freedom to shop for the brand of yoga that suits their requirements best.

      My question is about the yogas not mentioned in Yoga Journal, such as the Yoga of War, Greed Yoga, Me Yoga, and the Yoga of Selfishness. Do these forms of modern yoga not have their place, so that all people have the freedom to choose? There's a lot of people practicing the above. We can see that as in any marketplace there is also the Yoga of Competition, and sometimes the competition means that one person's Greed Yoga interferes with someone else's Eat to Survive Yoga.

      Imagine how long it takes nature to make a diamond. And among all the magnificent diamonds She creates, there is the Queen of Diamonds, the Koh-i-Nur. Imagine using that diamond to cut glass. A practical person might say, "Well, at least it has a real use!" But then, using our human genius, we invent a technology with which we cut glass with even more precision, and no longer require the Koh-i-Nur, so we put Her in the attic, in the box of antiquated technology along with our old computers.

      We are very gullible. We believe what has been successfully marketed to us by people who are good at marketing. We fell for George Bush and now Obama. We will fall for just about anything, if presented in a well constructed narrative.

      Yoga, in its former context was about "connection," not consumption, about the fantastic, not fantasy.

      • Hi, Baba. Thanks for writing this fascinating comment.

        I know you're living Yoga at its roots, but "Yoga in its former context was…not…about the fantastic, not fantasy"

        Even the spare, bare-bones, austere Yoga Sutra itself finds the time to get all excited about:
        –Levitation
        –Invisibility
        –Acquiring the strength of an elephant
        –Seeing previous lives
        –Walking on water
        –Entering another's body, and
        –Traveling through space

        The conservative translator Chip Hartranft goes so far as to imply that Patanjali probably didn't believe in these paranormal powers himself, but felt compelled to include them to appeal to those who did, i.e. for marketing purposes.

        I'm not an expert like you are, but don't you think you're vastly understating the tumultuous history of Yoga? It seems that from the beginning it's been about competing forms of Yoga and the marketing of them.

        Here's a good quote from Hartranft which illustrates all three of my points above:

        …in the millennium preceding Patanjali, the possession of superhuman capabilities came to be considered a sine qua non of spiritual leadership, as the brahmnical priestly class competed [emphasis added] with a growing cadre of ascetic spiritual teachers (sramanas) whose appeal derived not so much form ritual or sacrifice as from meditative attainment. Thus, nearly every new teacher and program–including even the budda-dharma–boasted or at least acknowledged a range of magical powers.

        Thanks again for writing, Baba, and for forcing me to think these things through.

        Bob Weisenberg
        ElephantJournal

        • Baba Rampuri says:

          Bob,
          Thank you for turning me on to Chip Hartranft. I just read his very insightful interview, "The Yoga-Sūtra as Practice," which is I believe what you quote. It's so refreshing to read someone so knowledgeable & dedicated to understanding and teaching yoga.

          We have a very curious challenge when we interpret events, texts, recorded things that happened many years ago. One of the great weaknesses in the Human Sciences, and I am pointing at History, is we make these interpretations as if they were happening today, in the midst of our own culture and discourse. We live in a very dominant culture that is especially adept at this kind of agency.

          We assign cultural attributes such as consumption, choice, and ideology, as well as the machine of mass media and the marketing of ideas to all time and all place. Curious that the theory the Aryan Invasion of India arose as European powers ruled most of the world as colonies, and they could say, "It's always been done like this."

          But, no, Patanjali was not into marketing. He didn't have an office, and there wasn't much of a market, anyway, for what he taught. He didn't have any books, there was no such thing as flyers, and no media with which to reach the "public," if we can even use that word. He did possess texts, however. But they were in his head. Things were not read, they were articulated. He sat at the dhuni, his sacred fire, among his disciples. No one was writing down his words. It's not that they were illiterate, quite the contrary, they were master grammarians. Patanjali didn't feel the sudden need to express himself and give future generations the secrets of yoga. He didn't get ideas and develop an ideology he wanted to sell. To who? For what? The ideas weren't even his. They belonged to his lineage, passed down from generation to generation. His culture, teachings, and knowledge even though local, had access to information from the entire known world. There was no competition for market share, the market didn't exist!

          How do I know this? I've lived inside of this for 40 years. Patanjali is spoken of as if living down the street or as if way back in the 20th century. Yes, we are a couple of thousand years down the road, but inside these traditions, there are many things that have no reason to change very dramatically over the millenia.

          There is only so much truth one can glean from Academic research, and what you quote from Chip about the Brahmanical priestly caste competing with sramanas is patently untrue, as both sides were Brahmins. This is a symbiotic relationship that I guess one can only understand by living it.

          One must never allow the Academy to hold authority over Esoteric Tradition.

          All that being said, I see no problem whatsoever with "yoga business." Compete by all means! Market yourselves! Think of how many of us would have to go out and get a real job, if it wasn't there. But why not call it what it is: a wonderful business that makes people healthier, more relaxed, and possibly a bit more aware of themselves and their surroundings. Why confuse this with Yoga Tradition, such as that of Patanjali? That only obscures both sides.

          Here's the issue: there is enormous value that lies in the Knowledge of Patanjali and others, and we are losing access to that value. Not because the Knowledge is going anywhere, but because our Speech, which has been reduced to the Speech of Consumption, the Speech of the Marketplace, is no longer able to connect with it. Our most valuable of all yogic assets had been handed over to Mr. McDonald.

          • Hi, Baba Rampuri.

            No one really knows that level of detail about exactly what Patanjali was like. Historians can't even pinpoint when he lived beyond a range of a few centuries.

            It seems to me the competition of ideas is very clear in the ancient texts themselves, especially the Upanishads and the Bhagavad Gita.

            I don't know the full extent of what you mean by the Esoteric Tradition, but devout practitioners are notoriously unreliable as truthful chroniclers of accurate history, even though they can provide a lot of important source material and historical hypotheses.

            I don't know what you mean by "handed over to Mr. McDonald". Any broad-brush statement like this about Yoga in America is wrong on the surface because American Yoga is astoundingly diverse, from Tara Styles to the Himalayan Institute.

            I'm guessing that if one had the data, it would show that far more people are being exposed to good solid traditional Yoga Sutra training today than 10 years ago. Just look at the proliferation of ancient text and commentary book sales. (I am personally about to read Edwin Bryant's 600 page "New Edition, Translation, and Commentary", which just came out). Same with the number of Americans traveling to India for study in traditional ashrams.

            In what way are we "losing access to that value"? It seems to me access is increasing along with access to everything else Yoga.

            I wonder if you could address my response to your original point about fantasy.

            Bob W.

          • Baba Rampuri says:

            Bob, thank you for getting this going and for the important questions you are bringing up. I think this is an area that merits a lot of discussion these days.

            I'm sorry for my long-windedness, I'm just taking advantage of not restricting it to 140 characters.

            “No one really knows that level of detail about exactly what Patanjali was like. Historians can't even pinpoint when he lived beyond a range of a few centuries.”

            I think you mean “no one, that you know of, among Western academics know that level of detail…” But among some traditions in India, there are those that know the minutest details about Patanjali and others. I have known a number of yogis in my own lineage who have had this knowledge. Historians may not know, but there are others that can tell you the day of the week he was born, under which star, and anything else you would like to know using the sky as the clock, because that’s how the oral tradition has always measured time. When Western astronomy finally discovered the precession of the equinox, Indian historians had already been using it for thousands of years.

            “It seems to me the competition of ideas is very clear in the ancient texts themselves, especially the Upanishads and the Bhagavad Gita.”

            Certainly as represented by those who consider competition among ideologies the “normal” and it IS in our current discourse, and translated and read by those assuming a universal competition among ideologies as always being the normal state of culture everywhere, it is not hard to interpret many things out of an old text, read out of the context for which it was composed and used.

            For one thing, it was never READ! It was heard, it was memorized, and it was articulated. Sort of like our White House Press correspondents.

            What you are referring to are sacred texts. They were not available in any market – they were not even books. You had to be an educated Brahmin to understand the recitation, and that’s the only access there was to them. The texts were not arguments that people would agree or disagree with, there was no debate. This is before literary criticism, which came thousands of years later – what we had in its place was “commentary.”

            The texts, in fact, are so loaded, that their true value and magnificence could only be understood by an elite that had access to that commentary. And commentary was also memorized and passed down, so these texts never stood alone, they were always accompanied by a very sophisticated context and exegesis. Without the context, the content may be wonderful, enlightening, and beautiful, but what the text actually is, what value it actually possesses, is lost.

            So, to superimpose cultural values of our present Age of Consumption, upon a sacred text of an elite group of highly educated members of a priestly caste living thousands of years ago can’t possibly produce results other than what some people can obtain by reading tea leaves in a cup, which some people can actually do.

            We can become inspired by great literature even in translation, it can give us amazing new thoughts and directions, we can realize certain knowledge – but all this doesn’t put us in a position to now represent this text, or this tradition without having the authority to do so.

            If we were in the Halls of Academia, playing by their rules, this discussion would be very different, because we would assign authority to the consensus of academic work on Sanskrit texts or Indian History or other departments of the Human Sciences. But since we are dealing with Yoga, then let’s be clear about who or what is informing us.

          • Baba Rampuri says:

            (continued, part 2)

            “I don't know the full extent of what you mean by the Esoteric Tradition, but devout practitioners are notoriously unreliable as truthful chroniclers of accurate history, even though they can provide a lot of important source material and historical hypotheses.”

            Esoteric tradition means that whatever might be in a text is not enough, and if someone wants the real stuff, the inside knowledge, how something “really” works, he or she requires inside access and inside instruction. If you want to make a blockbuster Hollywood film, you had better have inside access and inside instruction. Reading a book about it just won’t do.

            If the people on the inside are unreliable, then how is that people on the outside are reliable when they only have artifacts. This is the agency a dominant culture assumes, that the locals’ knowledge must be represented by the Colonizer, because the locals are not objective about their own knowledge (history included), i.e., they don’t have the same categories and methodologies as the Imperium.

            “I don't know what you mean by "handed over to Mr. McDonald". Any broad-brush statement like this about Yoga in America is wrong on the surface because American Yoga is astoundingly diverse, from Tara Styles to the Himalayan Institute.”

            I mean by that, exchanging a Speech of Connection for a Speech of Consumption. That the very way we read the signs in front of us, the way we make the signs by which we are known will determine to a large extent what value will be realized. When we shop among competing ideas for something to consume, something to add to our life to make it better, or so we believe, there are many things to buy into, but the Sacred isn’t one of them. In the category of The Sacred, I would include Knowledge of the Self. We discover through the Tradition of Yoga that connection, knowledge, peace, happiness is achieved by giving things up, not out of penance or discipline, but because they have become excess baggage. Eventually, your body will become excess baggage. Austerities and renunciation, for example, cannot easily fit into a culture of consumption.

            American Yoga is diverse from the point of view of American Yoga. From the outside, from an Indian Tradition of Yoga, one can’t help but notice amazing similarities among many of the brands, and can’t help but come to the conclusion that much of it is basically the same, at least, when compared to the Tradition itself. I find even the Russian and Eastern European yoga movements to be vastly different from the American one.

            Let’s not universalize an American view of things, especially in world that has considerable diversity. In fact, lets get rid of Perennialism and Universalism altogether, as in the end everyone fights over who’s Perennial philosophy is truly universal. It’s an imperial exercise. Useless.

          • Baba Rampuri says:

            (continued, part 3)

            “I'm guessing that if one had the data, it would show that far more people are being exposed to good solid traditional Yoga Sutra training today than 10 years ago. Just look at the proliferation of ancient text and commentary book sales. (I am personally about to read Edwin Bryant's 600 page "New Edition, Translation, and Commentary", which just came out). Same with the number of Americans traveling to India for study in traditional ashrams.”

            What would that data have to do with yoga. It’s information to which a statistician would have to determine what is Yoga Sutra, what is its training, and, what is good and solid and traditional. Again we hand authority to people who can only represent something on the basis of some somewhat sterile artifacts, numbers, yeses and nos, ones and zeroes.

            We are talking about markets, sales of books, people attending yoga classes, statistics compiled for their use in marketing. Nothing wrong with that. It’s great. Much better than almost any other thing I can think of, for yoga to be available and sold on markets. Again, I question why not call a spade a spade. Truth is our most precious commodity. There is no need here to sacrifice it.

            “In what way are we "losing access to that value"? It seems to me access is increasing along with access to everything else Yoga.”

            20-25 years ago, a Japanese student of mine, knowing how much I enjoyed to cook, brought me one of those legendary Japanese knives that probably cost a fortune, and gave me great pleasure when I sliced carrots. One day in my ashram in Haridwar, I took the knife out of a drawer and discovered to my shock that half of the blade was missing. I called one of my Indian chelas and asked him if he knew what happened to it. He admitted to me that the drawer was stuck, and as he tried to pry the drawer open with the knife, the blade broke in half. I asked him if it had managed to get the drawer open. He told me it did. He accomplished his immediate goal, and I lost my knife.

            Indian tradition possesses an intellectual capital, an immense treasure of uncalculatable value. Much of the modern pharmaceutical industry is built on a random sampling of Indian knowledge of medicinal herbs in the 19th century. The corpus of Ayurveda contains the knowledge to transform health and health care on the planet, and yet we sanitize it for the marketplace to the degree to which it becomes known as a new age massage technique. The marketplace does not accept magic, but standardized science. At least for the masses.

            “I wonder if you could address my response to your original point about fantasy.”

            Fantasy is a construction of thought, the fantastic is a compelling experience yet to be categorized.

          • We are in different worlds, Baba.

            The only difference between us is that I accept you and your world,
            whereas you do not accept my world.

            I encourage you to live and enjoy your very special spiritual world.
            You seem to have nothing but derision and disdain for my world.

            I will continue to read about you and study your world.
            You feel you have absolutely nothing to learn from my world.

            I embrace you the way you are.
            You only want to fix me.

            I will continue to enjoy reading about you and your spiritual exploits.

            I will continue to love and enjoy my Western world and Western rational values
            without ever having the slightest inclination to tell you you should be more like me.

            You have experienced things I will never experience
            and that I can learn from.

            I can assure the reverse is also true,
            but I have no need to push my values on you.

            Thanks for writing.

            Bob Weisenberg
            ElephantJournal

          • Baba and I reconciled on another thread within this blog. He responded in a very warm conciliatory way and I apologized for my impulsive and ill-considered response above.

            We still disagree on a lot of things, but we are on good terms, and the above response is now irrelevant and looking more and more ill-considered all the time!

            Bob W.

        • What's interesting about Hartranft's point is that it's similar to what non-fundamentalist Christian scholars say about the miracles in the gospels. In the earliest writings about Jesus, he was simply a teacher–a teacher who moved his followers to an exceptional degree, to the extent that they saw him as the truth, the light, etc., but a teacher nonetheless. It was only in the decades and centuries that followed that the resurrection, virgin birth, etc. became part of the story. Clearly, without clever marketing, none of the world's major spiritual traditions would have gotten very far. Then, I'm not sure that would be such a bad thing. Perhaps if people weren't so caught up in these ancient beliefs that've been so skillfully sold for so long–with the sales pitches more often than not mistaken for the substance–we'd be far more able to find what Emerson called an "original relation to the universe," and could our own sutras…

    • Carol Horton Carol Horton says:

      Bob: I love your open-mindedness and eagerness to celebrate the full variety of yogic paths. But I feel that you are too sanguine about the negative "power of the cultural messages represented by these ads. As a woman and a yoga practitioner, there's just no way that I can accept the co-existence of the tag lines "Get Your Best Summer Body Ever" and "Yoga Master" as legitimate. (The only saving grace is that it's so incongruous that it's funny.)

      "Get Your Best Summer Body Ever" promotes an externalized, alienated connection with your body; driving yourself to do whatever it takes to conform to some media-generated ideal. Yoga is the complete opposite. The fact that yoga counters the strong cultural push is key to what makes it so important for our society today. If you try to mix those messages, I'm afraid on the whole, yoga will be on the losing end; transformed into a pseudo-yoga that's about becoming "slim and sexy" (an obsession that's seriously damaging to untold numbers of people) not coming into an authentic connection with one's body and self.

      Overall, however, I think that the yoga community may simply need to accept that we diverge on this issue. Practitioners who accept these kinds of mixed messages as fine or even good are never going to see eye-to-eye with those who immediately see them as problematic. Given that we in the latter group are swimming against the cultural mainstream, we will have a more difficult time developing and maintaining a more alternative cultural space for American yoga. But I think that's where our energy should primarily go, as no matter how good our critiques are, they're not going to stop this dynamic or change the minds of people who think that it's perfectly fine.

      So I guess in the end I agree with you that we should co-exist, except that I also think that there needs to be much more concentrated energy put into maintaining an alternative cultural space for yoga for those who want that. And part of that space has to be created by articulating why these types of ads are problematic, even if in the end we're never going to "win" that argument.

      • Hi, Carol. Thanks for this exceptionally clear and well reasoned response.

        The issue of how modern culture affects various psychological disorders is clearly one that goes way beyond Yoga.

        For some, the practice of Yoga includes integrating it with political, economic and societal health issues.

        I respect this choice, like I respect all others, and I don't expect or want anyone to stop writing about these things.

        Bob W.

    • Brooks Hall Brooks_Hall says:

      Thanks Bob! I appreciate you! It sounds like you are into polyamorous yoga, and pies. Or maybe you are just observing the wild expansion and variety of America's love affair with yoga…

    • Robert Allen says:

      well put Bob, well said.

  3. Aron says:

    Well written and thoughtful article I applaud your effort. Personally I don't see anything wrong with the concept or execution. As a yogi and marketer, getting any kind of non-traditional advertising approved is nearly impossible. This campaign gives exposure to both yoga and green technology in an interesting and elegant way. Are you really going to be critical of something like that? Ideally we could have a peer review of every yogi, and every person who might be offended or negatively influenced, and come to a meeting of the minds with enlightened corporate executives. But that is truly unrealistic. This is as good as it gets on many levels so enjoy it for what it is. Marketing like this does not come along very often and we should encourage it rather than be hyper critical and read to much into it, projecting our biases and beliefs. It's just an ad. And a very good one.
    As far as wanting to westernize Yoga and get rid of the 'wierd words' I'm all for that too. There is nothing wrong with making yoga as accessible as possible. Nearly every successful eastern tradition that has thrived has had to do that when it migrated to the rest. Most people than not are going to be turned off by Sanskrit words than those who like how exotic they sound. After 20 years of doing yoga if I never heard the word Namaste again, I would be a happy camper.
    Truth like nature, adapts.

  4. aquinn says:

    I think Tara is great in the ad. Whatever people want to project onto her fit body is not about a problem with her. Maybe people need to look at themselves when they do that.

  5. johnson says:

    I'm disappointed she's not naked!

  6. candicegarrett says:

    wow. I love this article. I have been trying to put into words the way I feel about statements like "no chanting here." And while I largely agree with Bob that there are many flavors of yoga (and that it should be that way) I am always sad to see the greater philosophy or language of yoga advertised as "polluting" (as you so aptly put it), because for me they are so rich and fulfilling.

    • Brooks Hall Brooks_Hall says:

      Candicegarrett! Yes to richness and fulfillment! Individual yoga paths are very personal and there is not one thing that is right for everyone, so it's problematic when a high-profile ad like this with a eco product (that sounds great) and yoga (which I love) tries to advise us to avoid certain aspects of the practice–that's a mistake… In yoga and life we need to be able to choose without having inappropriate biases thrust at us.

  7. Emily Perry Emily says:

    Thank you for such a lovely piece. For me, I see things that make us uncomfortable as that which we need to further explore. I do believe that there is space for yoga that is "totally modern", a yoga that may first be about a "workout", but may eventually lead someone into a deeper practice. i have seen it happen a lot (and not as well…), these workout styles can be like gateway yoga. As long as it is done with respect! What a great space this is for conversation! Thank you elephant!

  8. Here's the correct link for Linda Sama's blog referenced in my first comment above:

    a classic yoga text…but not the one you think

    Bob W.

  9. ARCreated says:

    as always your writing is like a picture into my brain :) Thank you.

    I will chant and namaste and submerse myself in the ancient art of yoga…let those that want tara stiles version enjoy it…but you may want to avoid my class, and how sad to lose out on something different…personally I think it's because we want the short cut to everything — personally without the chanting and asanas etc it's just stretching and aerobics class…but that's my opinion…seems to me the POINT of YOGA as a whole is ALL of it.. BUT I was taught that "yoga will find a way" so if you get people interested they will take it their next level …I just wish it wasn't advertised in such a way to make traditional yoga sound so awful..don't like all the "trappings" of YOGA??? go to pilates :)

  10. ARCreated says:

    I too worry about the SLIMMER stuff…as a curvy vegan, yoga instructor (hey god made healthy women with hips too) I hate to play into the idea that slimmer is better, that yoga will make you skinny …. I prefer to promote the idea that it will make you healthier in mind body spirit….

    all that aside I'm excited about the car.

    It begs the question: is it YOGA if you don't practice all parts of it??? YOu know I re-read the ad and I think yeah i'm actually sort of annoyed…it turns it into being all about the body…just the body??? that's NOT yoga…that's exercise (and asana practice is good exercise) but it's NOT yoga…really it's not. Because YOGA can be done without moving at all…just sitting and chanting without all the poses is still YOGA…but the poses without the spiritual? just movement…I don't mind people using the form to get in shape just prefer they didn't call it yoga.

  11. What a terrific discussion you've generated here, Brooks. And such a wide range of surprising viewpoints!

    This is Elephant at its exhilarating best. Thank you.

    Bob W.

  12. bindifry says:

    when i was doing yoga in india, a woman fainted on my mat & had to be dragged out of the room. this happened twice-different skinny women. guruji (pattabhi jois) used to pinch women to see if they had enough meat on their bones. he would get angry, tell them to eat & come back later after a few chapatis.
    i also knew a few skin & bones ladies who would not even eat a banana in india because they feared it would make them fat.
    that model obviously has zero strength. her arms are not built by yoga. they are like toothpicks.
    a lot of people won't even enter the yoga room because they think the prerequisite is to be anorexic & naturally flexible. one needs flexibility in the mind, not the body to do yoga.

  13. Richard Bird says:

    Nice Article – I haven't seen the ad yet – As for the Nissan Leaf I've only seen the ads with Lance Armstrong during the Tour de France. A 100% electric car with no emissions excites me . . . environmentally speaking.

    As far as Yoga originating in India – there are several account that we can find it in Ancient egypt as well as Viking heritage. Not Brett Favre, but maybe it could give us ten more years of him!

    I no longer teach in sanskrit but it does carry a nice vibration . . . nice for Tara Styles, yoga master.
    BTY – have you noticed what industries are not using yoga to sell products? Me neither

  14. Baba Rampuri says:

    Bob,

    What kind of response is that?

    Don’t be so paranoid. Smile! I guarantee you that i don’t want you to be like me, think like me, or be anyone else but yourself. One of me is quite enough on the planet. I am not selling anything here, I’m pointing out what is obvious to many of us who have committed our lives to Yoga.

    There is no need to be my agent, represent my feelings, my thoughts, and interpret them in such an opposite way. What you write are not my statements or intentions, but misrepresentations. I haven’t attacked you. This is not something personal. I thought that we were yogis in discussion, and that we were above pettiness, which is one of Patanjali’s main themes.

    We are not in competition, Bob.

    Of course we are in different worlds, it’s obvious. Is that a problem? Must the “Same” reject the “Other?” I suggest that unless the “Same” engages the “Other” there cannot be communication, love, or compassion. The fact we live in different worlds is the value. Magic happens where worlds meet.

    I don’t reject your world, I haven’t a clue as to what your world looks like, your thoughts, feelings, relationships, and you couldn’t possibly accept mine as it is so obscure and has such difficult access. And I’m certainly not selling my world, there’s nothing to buy into. I don’t have an ideology to sell.

    But I do fully accept the American Yoga movement, the marketing and selling of yoga, as I see it as a powerful alternative to a civilization in collapse. That people can finally sit on the ground again, on the earth, experience and tune their bodies, question what they always believed about their health, and for some to question even further – this is great. And that others may earn a living teaching, writing, and speaking about this instead of a boring, useless job is God sent. Selling Yoga mats instead of Coca-Cola is balancing for our society.

    I tell traditional Indian Yogis the exact opposite of what I tell you. I tell them, “Look at these people in the West who have nowhere near the immersion in Yoga culture as you do – THEY realize the enormous value in this, be it monetary, spiritual, or health, and they have generated a multi billion dollar industry that is a sign, a mark of its enormous value while you guys take it all for granted, and sit on your asses. I really say it just like that. And its not money I’m talking about, it’s value, which is different. They don’t get offended, they understand I’m offering them some insight that I have because I have become equally a part of two worlds.

    A number of years ago, I was having dinner with Bikram at his home in L.A., and in a tone not inconsistent with his public personality he bragged not untruthfully, “If I hadn’t done what I’ve done, there would be one million less people practicing yoga.” “Bravo,” I replied, “But if some ‘naked baba’ hadn’t sat in that cave for all those years, you wouldn’t have the yoga to teach in the first place.” I’ve known Bikram for many years, it’s the only time I remember him remaining silent.

    Bob, we’re all in this together.

    • Brooks Hall Brooks Hall says:

      Thank you, Baba, for sharing this. I am sitting on the edge of my seat as I am reading what you are saying about your conversation with Bikram:

      “But if some ‘naked baba’ hadn’t sat in that cave for all those years, you wouldn’t have the yoga to teach in the first place.”

      Amen (from my tradition). We are in this together, as you said.

    • Hi, Baba.

      Thanks for your very calm and measured response to my impulsive and ill-considered response. Thanks to your refusal to let yourself be provoked, I think and hope we're back on track.

      We disagree about many things, stemming from our very different and in some ways opposite life choices. But you can rely on me to stick to those things from now on, rather than question your willingness to listen to me.

      I look forward to what I'm sure will be our many enjoyable future discussions.

      Bob Weisenberg
      ElephantJournal

  15. Amanda says:

    Note to Bob, you don’t have to post an answer to ever comment. You are like a person who interrupts a conversation between several people commenting on everything someone says instead of letting it flow between everyone. Annnoying. These comments would be a lot easier to read without having to plow though lots of yours which essentially makes the same point. Thank you for your consideration.

    • Hi, Amanda.

      Thanks for your direct and honest feedback. I appreciate that kind of straight-talk.

      In my mind, I'm always just trying to be responsive and involving. But with your suggestion, I'll think more carefully about when it's really useful for me to respond and when it's just distracting to the other readers like yourself.

      Could I ask you, are you just talking about this particular blog, or other blogs as well? The first thing I'm going to do is read through my comments on this blog from your perspective to see how they are coming across to you.

      But if there are other blogs where you've been annoyed, it would be very useful for me to look at those as well. With understanding I can try to do better.

      Thanks again for writing.

      Bob Weisenberg
      ElephantJournal

  16. Janice says:

    Great thoughts here, Brooks! Especially like the exploration of the idea that difficult to pronounce words should be avoided. I worry about that with one of my colleagues. He is a great guy with a difficult to pronounce first name. I hope this doesn't impede his growth at the company where I work. He has so much to offer.

  17. [...] via: Elephant, and Nissan] from → Celebrity Yoga Roundup, Yoga Trip ← Dharma Chameleon is a [...]

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  19. [...] to you, or me, or Stiles or Bikram or Iyengar or any human who has lived or died on this planet. It never will. It doesn’t [...]

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  22. http://www.jeepcompassreviews.org/ Jeep Compass Reviews says:

    Apparently, Wheels would also remark about how white that hat is.

  23. [...] a world where yoga is being used to sell everything from yogurt, air fresheners, pain killers and cars? In other words, has yoga lost its [...]

  24. [...] a world where yoga is being used to sell everything from yogurt, air fresheners, pain killers and cars? In other words, has yoga lost its [...]

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  26. [...] a world where yoga is being used to sell everything from yogurt, air fresheners, pain killers, and cars? In other words, has yoga lost its [...]

  27. [...] a world where yoga is being used to sell everything from yogurt, air fresheners, pain killers and cars? In other words, has yoga lost its [...]

  28. Hi, Andrea. Could you clarify your point for me? I started to answer, then I realized I don't fully understand what you are suggesting here. Are you just saying you prefer the Sanskrit names?

    Or perhaps you're not suggesting anything and just making an ironic comment. Please help me before I end up answering a question you weren't asking!

    My answer was going to be about how language development has a life of its own. It's not like there is some master committee somewhere that decides how language changes over time, or which words survive and which words die off. For better or worse, it's pretty much a free for all.

    Thanks,

    Bob W.

  29. aquinn says:

    I get the idea that you have an issue with slim women. I am healthy, calm, and slim (was that the right order for my words?) and I do not have an eating disorder. Every time I read one of your posts I get that same feeling. Personally, I prefer to look within before judging peoples' body types.

  30. Andrea says:

    My apologies for the sarcasm.

    Brooks said it better than I ever could:
    "Yoga was discovered in India. The pose names may seem strange at first because they come from another language. The world is bigger than American culture (which has always been a “melting pot,” anyway), and this is healthy. Yoga can remind us of this important truth. And as a metaphor, the “otherness” of those sounds and chanting can remind us that experience is larger than our individual minds can contain. I love that yoga provides a technique that gives me relief from the tight strictures of my own mind.

    The ways of materialist culture as seen in this advertisement seem to be trying to cleanse yoga of its Indian-ness, as if the strangeness of it is a form of pollution. I think that the difference and newness for us is good. We need to practice moving into new spaces and saying new things."

    I don't like Sanskrit terms just because they sound "exotic", as Aron suggested. I had the great good fortune of being able to study Sanskrit with a wonderful teacher over the course of a couple of years, and it was one of the most enriching experiences imaginable. Not just because it was a great challenge (as learning a new skill often is) but because it gave me a sense of Yoga studies that I wouldn't have felt otherwise. My teacher would often tell us not bother to translate certain words — like "dharma" — into English in our exercises because it cannot *be* adequately translated into English. She would say "you just feel it [the meaning] in your bones." Sanskrit has several words for "consciousness" with varied levels of meaning that we simply don't have in English, either. As the saying goes, you lose something in the translation — you lose another way of looking at the world. And it's not just Sanskrit; any language study will broaden the mind.

    But I realize I'm projecting, rather than staying present. Projecting that in an ever-broadening wave of preferences for Americanized yoga with Americanized words we will lose something more significant than just a preference for a particular sound in the ear. Projecting that eventually meditation and the subtler practices will be deemed by the culture at large to be too foreign and not accessible enough for Americans, and will be dropped from yoga practice as well. I see it as the top of a slippery slope.

    But who am I to stand in the way of change? Maybe this is to be my practice of surrender. And maybe movement and breathing is enough.

    Thank you for helping me to clarify, and for stretching my mind.

  31. Hi, Andrea. No need to apologize for sarcasm. I just wanted to make sure I understood you before I went too far with my answer.

    This all gets back to my pie analogy. What if you became convinced, perhaps counter-intuitively, that every time Yoga gets more popular and widely know in it's more commercial forms, that all types of traditional Yoga, including the study of Sanskrit, are greatly enhanced, not diminished?

    I firmly believe that is the case. (I made the argument in my recent defense of Yoga Journal that it is a giant feeder system for all traditional Yoga systems, including the study of Sanskrit. One of the reasons I know this is because a lot of the traditional Yoga institutions take out expensive ads in Yoga Journal.)

    I think the same is certainly true of Tara Stiles Yoga. That's what I meant in my first comment by "All forms of Yoga help support each other."

    If I were running a Sanskrit School like Sanskrit Studies, I would love for Tara Stiles to attract as many people to begin Yoga as possible. These would be my future customers as some of them are drawn to more traditional Yoga over time.

    Bob

    Bob Weisenberg
    ElephantJournal

  32. Wow, Lindsay. That really gives us all something to think about–a number of profound things think about, actually.

    You've managed to completely upend my usual habit of spewing out an answer.

    Thank you.

    Bob W.

  33. Aron says:

    Perfect response Lindsay. We all should be so self aware as to own our reactions rather than just react. Nothing wrong with having an instinctive reaction but, being aware of it seems to be the first step to changing it.

  34. Brooks Hall Brooks_Hall says:

    Yes! Yes! Lindsayyoga, I love hearing about how you are processing this. Thank you! Yes the ad is a good thing because it is making us think. Thank you Nissan and Tara Stiles! I am so grateful that they put this whole thing together. I hope we can have better cars for the future!

    This is your sentence that intrigues me: "My opinion is that this ad was meant to appeal to those who have pre-conceived or even mis-informed notions about hatha yoga."

    Hmmm. I think it must be true. So smart…

  35. Linda-Sama says:

    HA! Bob, I would pay good money to see you sitting with the naked Shiva babas at the Mela getting some shaktipat!

  36. Yeah, probably not my thing!

  37. Aron says:

    You seem to be implying that a class that avoids certain things or emphasizes things like fitness is less superior.
    If you leave the chocolate out of chocolate cake it may not be Chocolate but it is still a cake. Maybe just a cake that tastes like chocolate and is far healthier…like Carob.

  38. Linda-Sama says:

    like I said…..
    "some people like vanilla, some like chocolate, and that's fine"

  39. Brooks Hall Brooks_Hall says:

    I happen to know that both of you are beautiful, slim women… I know that's not the point, just sayin…

    That aside, I do think that it is relevant (super-important!) to look at societal pressures about being slim. From the cover of the magazine: “Eat, Drink & Still Shrink!” How small should I go? Should I try to disappear?? The message is there. Obesity is a real problem, but the pressure to be thin might just be making us fatter… Acceptance and loving ourselves can bring us into a greater state of health, I think!

    Thanks to you!!

  40. Aron says:

    The Sanskrit response was to the poster above. but the premise that a person let alone an ad, can somehow stifle 'a desire to hear and learn.' seems to not give people very much credit. Besides that it's expressing a certain view and a preference. Slimmer, streamlined cars, accessible juxtaposing that with a simplified yoga practice. Sure it may be a stretch. You can find that objectionable some how but its just an ad.

  41. Brooks Hall Brooks Hall says:

    Hi Carol! Thank you for your comments. I am glad that your voice is here!

    In answer to your recent comment:

    “…does that mean that we should be grateful that it’s occurring and not oppose it? ”

    My answer is “yes.” I don’t think that there is another viable choice. If we just turn our back on the things we don’t like, those things are still there in the shadows. I am grateful for the opportunities that challenge me. And I am grateful that I have forums (like here at Elephant) where I can explore these ideas.

    And, “yes.” we should put our viewpoint out there, even if it opposes a dominant worldview.

    So I strive to be “grateful for what is occurring” because I connect experience with the blessing of my life, and I also seek to be courageous enough to speak my truth which will sometimes be different than what someone else thinks.

    So I would say: “Be grateful for what’s occurring, and oppose it when necessary.”

  42. Brooks Hall Brooks Hall says:

    Hi Aron,

    Thanks for your thoughts on this.

    However, it’s not “just an ad” to me. It’s an outpicturing of something moving in our culture. It’s also a message we are feeding our minds, and just like junk food can cause a bad reaction in the body, so also can a misguided message cause a hitch in our thinking. 

    When the ad mentions “hard-to-pronounce” words it is tapping into a natural human fear of the unknown. It is hard enough for us to manage our own fears of change and difference, without our ads reinforcing that it is appealing to find easier ways–our subconscious mind already knows this…

    As my teacher has said: 

    “Life says: Take a risk. Fear says: Play it safe.”

  43. Linda-Sama says:

    The status quo is a poor excuse for doing nothing….

    and I see so much status quo in these ads (also going back to what prompted JL's letter)…..

  44. Hi, Arun. Thank for writing.

    I have no comment on your last paragraph simply because I have no knowledge of any of those things.

    As for history vs. lineages, let's just agree that they are two different things.
    They can learn from each other and feed each other, but let's never confuse one for the other.

    Let's never think that history can possibly substitute for authentic lineage.
    Likewise, let's never confuse the sacred traditions of a lineage with historical fact.

    These are two different things that offer different things to society,
    and one cannot replace the other.

    Bob Weisenberg
    ElephantJournal

  45. Thanks for being here, girlwarrior. Enjoyed reading you response.

    This has been a great discussion, thanks to the willingness of everyone to follow your advice above and get involved.

    Bob W.

  46. Linda-Sama says:

    as a commenter said in my feminist response to the JL letter and YJ ad: "Judging by the images used to sell yoga, tranquilityy doesn't come with wrinkles, frizzy hair, blemishes or a pot belly."

    BRAVO!

  47. integralhack says:

    I'm grateful to read your post, Brooks, as well as Linda's and Carol's (thread below) comments. I find it ironic that we are finally getting back to Lasater's intent with her letter after the ridiculous segue way into ToeSox. Thanks for getting the issue back on track in regard to this topic.

    Indeed, as girlwarrior and Ramesh Bjonnes commented elsewhere, this is a systemic problem and many men and women are unaware that this is a problem endemic to our culture. And when we do become aware of the problem we tend to minimize it as just being a necessary capitalist evil of some sort. I think we can do better.

  48. Brooks Hall Brooks_Hall says:

    Yes, Thank you, integralhack! I, too, think that our capacity to re-imagine ourselves is of vital importance.

  49. Hi, Linda.

    I agree with everything you just wrote, and tried to allow for all that in my previous comments from which this conversation with Arun emerged. This is really an extension of my long exchange with Baba.

    If you look at the whole stream you'll see that Baba was arguing that the oral lineages, particularly his own oral history, trumps all Western oriented evidence based history. He explicitly debunks Yoga scholars I know you respect greatly, like Feuerstein and, I assume Edwin Bryant. He pretty much told me I was wasting my time reading Bryant's recent 600 page Yoga Sutra commentary, which I'm really enjoying, because it's just some more of those Western historians who aren't really tuned into the truth as he and his authentic lineage collegues know it to be through their oral tradition. He claims that he and his associates know all the intimate details about Patanjali' life, whereas Western scholars do not because they don't accept oral history without corroborating evidence.

    So in this final response to Arun, I was just trying to express my interest in and acceptance of both traditions and to state that they both have their place. It was my perception that Baba was unwilling to even consider the Western evidence based approach to history that set me off and led to my impulsive provocative response to Baba, which I have subsequently apologized for. But the issue of respect for the Western scholarly approach to history still remains. I think both Western history and the authentic lineages are important. But they're two different animals.

    All of the examples you gave above are clearly within the scope of both traditions, simply because your examples are all written down, and therefore accepted by both traditions, although Western historians like Bryant, will be trying to figure out whether any ancient text is literally true or just reflects the common thinking of its time, which, to the Western historical method, might be two different things.

    I agree with you completely that there can and should be a lot of interaction between the two, and that's what I was trying to say with my clarifying sentence: They can learn from each other and feed each other, but let's never confuse one for the other.

    Please tell me if I've answered your question adequately. I agree with everything you just wrote. I'm going to have to have some more discussions with Baba about this hopefully.

    I would greatly enjoy hearing your thoughts on all the ideas I've tried to express above.

    Bob W.

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